What Caused a Feud in Ukraine’s New Independent Church?
27 May, 2019
On May 24, a meeting of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was held at Kyiv’s St Sophia Cathedral. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine

In January, Constantinople presented Ukraine’s new Orthodox Church with the long-awaited decree of independence, officializing a historic split from the Russian church.

Less than a month before Tomos of Autocephaly was handed over, the Unification Council created the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It was supposed to unite the three churches – Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the Kyiv Patriarchate, UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church.

The council met on December 15 to elect the head of the new church. But this process was not without controversy. Constantinople did not want Patriarch Filaret – Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate – to head the new church. Filaret accepted this but made efforts to ensure his protege, Metropolitan of Pereyaslavsky and Belotserkovsky Epiphanius, was elected as the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

This month, however, a conflict erupted between Filaret and Epiphanius – one that has lead to talk of a split within the new church and potential consequences for its decree of independence.

Violated Agreement?

Filaret began voicing his displeasure with the status of the church not long after it received autocephaly. In an interview with the news site in March, Filaret talked about wanting to change status of the church from metropolis to patriarchate (the current leader of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine has the status of a metropolitan). He voiced a similar sentiment during an interview with Radio Liberty in April.

“We are not satisfied with the status of the metropolis. We have existed for more than 25 years as a patriarchy,” he said.

Since then, the situation has escalated.

Filaret, who is now an honorary patriarch, has accused Epiphanius of being controlled by others, violating an agreement on a division of power and avoiding him.

The honorary patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Filaret speaks during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 15, 2019. Photo credit: Inna Sokolovska . UNIAN

Earlier this month, he said that before the Unification Council on December 15, he made a verbal agreement with Epiphanius and then-President Petro Poroshenko about dividing the power. Epiphanius would represent the new church in the Orthodox world while Filaret himself would continue to manage the church.

Filaret said that at the first meeting of the synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, they tried to exclude him from services and also that Epiphanius never conducted a service with him.

“Metropolitan Epiphanius not only doesn’t work with Patriarch Filaret, as promised, but doesn’t even meet or call, with the exception of a few times,” a statement from the patriarch read.

“While talking to the clergy and journalists, he speaks of unity and cooperation, but does the opposite. He frightens people with revocation of Tomos, but in fact he is doing everything to make this happen.”

Filaret told journalists on May 15 said he would not have pushed for Epiphanius to be the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine if he had known that separation and diarchy would come between them in the church.

“If I had known that it would be like this, I would not have put Epiphanius forward at the synod. I trusted him,” he said.

However, in an interview with BBC Ukraine on May 16, Epiphanius rejected Filaret’s claims.

“Personally, I didn’t make any promises before the Unification Council,” he said.

“Negotiations were conducted over a period of half a year, there were many meetings and different offers were discussed. I was not present at all negotiations, but at a large number of them.”

Epiphanius said that the last agreement before the council was made without his presence.

“This was the final position. Everyone may have had their thoughts, but in the end, all the agreements are finalized with what? Signing documents. So to say now that someone promised someone something is irrelevant,” he said.

He also stated that he could not make all decisions following the council last December, where a different model of church leadership was laid out.

“There is an opinion that it is possible to single-handedly govern the church, but we want to be an open, democratic church, which is guided by the synod, bishops' council and local council. In my decisions I take into account the opinion of the bishops and clergy,” he said.

The honorary patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Filaret speaks to journalists on May 15, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

He added that no one has the right to interfere in the church’s internal affairs – not the state, not other native Orthodox Church, nor the Ecumenical Patriarch.

“But we do have the right to ask him for advice or explanation of certain points concerning Tomos or  the statute,” he said.

Does the Kyiv Patriarchate Still Exist?

Filaret has also been adamant that the Kyiv Patriarchate had not been dissolved following the creation of a united local Orthodox church.

In an address to the Orthodox congregation on May 14, Filaret said Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate temporarily renounced its status as a patriarchate to obtain a Tomos, but the Kyiv Patriarchate itself was not dissolved.

Days earlier, he told 1 + 1 TV channel that the Kyiv Patriarchate could only be liquidated by those who created it. That’s Filaret himself and the local council of that church.

In an address to the Orthodox congregation on May 15, Filaret said such a council had not been held.

But according to Epiphanius and a Kyiv Patriarchate representative Archbishop Yevstratiy Zorya, that’s not the case. Following the unification council where Epiphanius was elected, Zorya said that the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church decided on self-dissolution.

“Before the start of the Unification Council, the two churches that took part in the unification (this is the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church), held their own Councils and decided to dissolve themselves and formed a single local church through the merger,” the archbishop said.

“Legally, this new church is the heir to both the autocephalous church and the Kyiv Patriarchate.”

According to media reports, the Ministry of Culture has also confirmed that the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate was dissolved last December.


The feud has prompted talks of both a split and a possible revocation of Tomos.

Epiphanius earlier this month warned that the return of the Kyiv Patriarchate could have serious consequences.

“Today, a return to the previous structure of the Kyiv Patriarchate means a return back to isolation, the loss of Tomos and all the achievements of church independence,” Epiphanius was quoted by local media on May 10.

Filaret as well as Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) of Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnevsky have rejected this claim. Both believe that Tomos won’t be retracted under any circumstances. Drabinko said there was no procedure to revoke Tomos and it would be unrealistic.

Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) of Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnevsky speaks to Hromadske on May 15, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo credit: Hromadske

But a number of religious scholars, including Vitaliy Khromets and Dmytro Gorevoy, concurred that changing the status of the church from the metropolis to the patriarchate, could result in the loss of Tomos. Gorevoy told Hromadske that if Filaret succeeds in doing so, it would be a violation of the provisions of Tomos and the Ecumenical Patriarchate could revoke it.

Khromets explained that Constantinople didn’t just randomly give the new church the status of metropolis, and not of patriarchy.

“The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is made up of more than 7,000 parishes, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is 11,000-12,000 parishes,” he said.

“The Ecumenical Patriarch clearly says: let's gain strength, become the Orthodox majority for Ukraine and then we will talk about patriarchy.”

Khromets added that another split in the church would only be beneficial for those who do not want stability for Ukraine.

However Epiphanius told the BBC Ukraine on May 16 that there was no split in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

“We respect holy Patriarch Filaret, who has done a lot for the Ukrainian church to become autocephalous,” he said.

“But the thoughts of individual bishops do not reflect the position of the entire church.”

Two days earlier, Filaret invited a number of bishops to Kyiv’s St. Volodymyr Cathedral for a prayer celebration to honor holy martyr Makariy.

Gorevoy told Hromadske this was Filaret’s way of checking how many hierarchs supported him.

According to media reports, only four bishops from 65 came to the prayer celebration.

Later, in an interview with Current Time TV on May 23, Filaret claimed that he believed the churches would have never accepted Tomos in the first place had they known its contents.

He contested three points of the decree, including the impossibility of having overseas parishes, the preparation of miro – a specially prepared and consecrated aromatic oil – and the requirement to resolve conflicts through the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Conflict Resolution?

On May 24, a meeting of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was held at Kyiv’s St Sophia Cathedral.

Outside, a rally of some 100 people gathered in support of Filaret. Inside, it appeared, the conflict continued.

Filaret had refused to sign the decision of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, according to which the church agreed to be guided by the charter adopted at the Unification Council on December 15.

“The Synod has shown that in its future life and activities, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will be guided by sacred tradition, scripture and the charter that was adopted on December 15 inside the walls of St. Sophia,” Epiphanius said after the meeting.

He added that Filaret was the only member of the Synod who did not sign the decision.

Furthermore, members of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine could not convince Filaret of the dissolution of the Kyiv Patriarchate.

Following the synod, Filaret claimed that Epiphanius was surrounded by “pro-Moscow forces”, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

He would not say who represented these forces. “But if it is necessary, then I will name everyone,” he added.

However, the following day saw a turn of attitude from Filaret, prompting questions about whether the conflict has been resolved.

According to reports, Epiphanius and Filaret prayed together. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine also released a statement, saying the patriarch congratulated the primate of the church on the Day of the Angel and wished him God’s help with the difficult task of developing the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

“Today we have the task of not only preserving the unity that we practice, despite the opposition forces that are trying to divide and destroy us,” he also said.

“Our main task is to unite all Orthodoxy of Ukraine into a single, local Orthodox Church. If we achieve this, it will mean that Ukraine is invincible because it has a solid foundation.”

Filaret emphasized that he was confident that the unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine will continue in the future. He also thanked the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for his efforts in establishing a single Local Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

/By Natalie Vikhrov